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The wrong kind of leaving

Railway station
11/20/2003 -  
Barry Russell: Stay, don't go

Barry Russell (Gary), Susan Bisatt (Raquel)

Cornelius Cardew Ensemble

This year's Cambridge Music Festival included a number of apposite uses of locations, among them a late-night series of religious music in college chapels. Cambridge station is a less likely location for art, but Barry Russell has constructed an entertaining short opera that might be the kind of scene you overhear on the platform just before the London train goes. Raquel is leaving, Gary wants her to stay, and all their discontents pour out as they argue.

Russell has written a number of similar pieces, mainly for performance in pubs, some of which were also included in the festival. This one looks like a kind of sequel to snow falling on the wrong kind of leaves, a rework of Brief encounter, and it has much in common with the original half-hour play, a slightly heightened slice of life, though less with the domestic symphony of David Lean's film. Cambridge classicists might compare Theocritus' and Herodias' urban idylls, selections to be read out loud in Monty Python bed maker voices until you get bored or laryngitis, and the name Raquel also hints at the sentimental wing of television comedy and soap, which can do this sort of thing very well, though without music. Russell's short operas have been around at least as long as Tête-à-Tête's compendiums and Jerry Springer: the opera, and use much more economical means to a similar end.

The ideal way to see this one would have been to come to the station to catch a train and notice Gary and Raquel shouting at each other in the crowd. Domestic bust-ups on the station don't usually come with an instrumental ensemble (clarinet, cello, percussion and alto saxophone), but the tense rhythm of well-rehearsed reproaches was effectively externalised. On a windy day, alas, both the sound and the percussionist's sheet music occasionally went astray. Russell was splendidly obnoxious as Gary, whose extramarital interest turned out to be curry, and Susan Bisatt was amusingly irritating as the highly-strung Raquel. Though since she is leaving Gary because he is fat and disgusting, the explicit allusion to Brief encounter, the movie, rings hollow: growing old with Trevor Howard was never going to be genteel.

HE Elsom



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